Adapting to the Changing Times of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s
Not long after WWII, both the men’s and women’s organizations instituted a membership system setting up local chapters in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, New York, and Atlanta. This change allowed them to reach large sectors of American Jewry across the country. Both organizations continued to grow and prosper, particularly WAO, which became World ORT’s largest and most successful fundraising arm. At its height, it had a dues-paying membership of 150,000 women in over 1000 chapters across the United States. They channeled their aid into programs that accelerated adult training, scholarships for teacher training, apprenticeships, and school construction and equipment. Interestingly, WAO reinforced its influence by supporting major U.S. Jewish fundraising campaigns such as the United Jewish Appeal, local welfare funds, Israel Bonds and the American Joint Distribution Committee.
But by the late 1970s and early ’80s, as more Jewish women moved into careers, involvement in membership organizations like WAO declined, and it was forced to come up with new ways of engaging busy women. Of major importance, which continues today, was cultivating young leadership, involving them intellectually, socially, and financially in the organization. In fact, WAO created a national young leadership development department called the Baroness de Günzburg Planned Giving Society in honor of its long-serving honorary president.
Throughout this time period, World ORT (with the support of American Jewry), continued to expand its influence across the globe. For example, it began working with the Jewish community in Ethiopia in the 1970s, initially constructing more than 20 schools, which provided training courses and helped set up cooperatives and/or independent cottage industries.
Another major change happened when technology and the computer age hit the world at breakneck speed. Simultaneously, there was an influx of new Jewish immigrants in the U.S. coming from Russia and Iran. WAO, under the dynamic leadership of its Executive Director, Nathan Gould, and American ORT responded by supporting technical education schools and programs for these new immigrants. Among them: the Bramson ORT Technical College in Queens, New York, the Zarem-Golde ORT Technical Institute in Chicago, and later the David B. Hermelin ORT Resource Centre in the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Jewish Community Centre in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Courses included English as a Second Language, robotics, and computer science. These persistent efforts were outstanding, with several of the schools becoming community colleges focused on modern technology and business management. New schools and programs also opened up in Miami, Cleveland and Atlanta.
On the international scene, American supporters of ORT contributed to the establishment of new institutions in Israel such as the ORT Braude International Institute of Technology, offering students a place to study state-of-the-art technologies needed for the 21st century.